Osama bin Laden's Hollywood Ending


Friday, May 06, 2011

Jack Bauer(Kiefer Sutherland), from the Fox series 24, and Osama bin Laden. Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), from the Fox series 24, and Osama bin Laden. (Getty Images/Getty)

From the beginning it was like fiction.  The world’s most famous skyscrapers vaporized by two hijacked airliners.  The phrase you heard over and over again was: "it seemed just like a movie."  Yes, but the implausible opening sequence of a bad action movie — spectacular destruction orchestrated by a rich, smirking super-villain from his fortified mountain lair halfway around the world.

We went to Afghanistan in pursuit of Osama bin Laden and his allies.  President Bush sounded like a tough-talking John Wayne when he said we would "smoke them out of their holes."  But the evil mastermind disappeared, except for the occasional taunt beamed back to civilization.  He remained free as many of us stopped hoping. 

And now it is like genre fiction once again — the same movie with an implausible, stunning final scene.  A super-elite team of commandos swoop in after midnight.  The President of the United States watches with the Secretary of State (his former opponent) on live video at the White House Situation Room.  Finally the president speaks: "We got him."

The only thing missing was Jodie Foster giving a thumbs up to Denzel Washington.

This is not the way the bin Laden story seemed to be heading. Instead, it had been proceeding like so many of the TV series and movies that have riveted us in the last decade The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire, Dark Knight, No Country for Old Men — in all their different genres, these are stories that ended without reassurance.  The bad guys more or less got away with it.  We’ve almost gotten used to being unsettled and disappointed. 

But this story ended the old-fashioned way — surprisingly, dramatically, and unambiguously.  This helps explain why Jack Bauer — the super-heroic counter-terrorist operative from the TV show 24 — has been trending on Twitter.

I think last weekend’s finale felt so satisfying because it was so familiar. We've read this novel, watched this show, seen this movie.  And it turns out the bad guys also knew how to play their part.  The great journalist Lawrence Wright reported that Al Qaeda trainees watched Hollywood action blockbusters and Schwarzenegger movies to see how hijackings are done. 

Did they not watch all the way through and see how those movies end?

Life sometimes imitates art — but only briefly.  Reality, unlike fiction, is an infinite murky mess. Happy endings unravel. Black and white moral clarity turns gray.  In the real world, we don’t just walk out of the theater. That's life.

Kurt Andersen


The movie and TV clips used in this segment include (in order of appearance):

  • The Dark Knight
  • The Rifleman
  • Silverado
  • Rambo
  • 24
  • Patriot Games
  • The Dirty Dozen
  • The Professionals
  • Black Hawk Down
  • Delta Force
  • Robocop
  • The Godfather
    Music Playlist
  • God's Gonna Cut You Down
    Artist: Johnny Cash
    Album: American V: A Hundred Highways
    Label: Lost Highway
    Purchase: Amazon

Produced by:

Derek John and Eric Molinsky

Comments [7]

Kake from Central Oregon

I enjoyed the editing prowess and the Oscar-like collection of clips. I would have liked an enumeration of the cost in non-combatant AND combatant blood and money of the events in between the Towers and the Death of the "evil genius." Or maybe we didn't need to be reminded. It is the working and middle class of this country and the working and poor of the countries in which we fight that bear the burden of the decisions leaders make about wielding vengeance.

May. 21 2011 12:27 AM
Steve MacIntyre from Greenville, DE

This was a fun montage. It was a little odd, though, hearing John Wayne's voice over what sounded like music from Sergio Leone's "Once Upon A Time In The West".

Jangling to imagine John Wayne in a Spaghetti Western. Then again, Henry Fonda starred in that one…

May. 10 2011 09:25 PM

i'm not a birther and i'm not a truther - i'm a lover of film, art and literature - but i have looked at all the evidence from all sides and have deduced the following:

it's not a question of if bin laden is dead or not - he has been for years - the question, which i'm very surprised the government isn't more interested in - is how on earth did a man in a cave in 2001 manage to get industrial grade explosives into (at least) WTC7? it's beyond a smoking gun.

oh well. eh?

May. 09 2011 08:10 AM

When you put it that way, it seems like the movies/series you mentioned from the last decade could really embody a broader cultural anxiety about just that—a lack of resolve; a despondency about a war we seemed progressively further from winning. Can't wait to see what the film theorists have to say in another ten years!

May. 08 2011 12:55 AM
fef3 from Washington, DC.

This is so vacuous. It's just disappointing. If you can't come up with material that's better than this, maybe it's time to hang up the headphones.

May. 07 2011 02:20 PM
Lou Perez from On a flight from L.A. to NYC

Apparently Sylvester Stallone wasn't happy with the way Osama bin Laden's death went down:


May. 06 2011 10:21 PM
carol Ames

PLEASE let this topic die! like the man

May. 06 2011 08:46 PM

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